Graduating from Western University in 1995 with degrees in English and Education, Tina Bax had a desire to share her talents abroad. While teaching English as a Second Language in South Korea, Bax developed an appreciation for language education and new cultural experiences.
“It really impressed upon me the opportunity that immersion gives you,” Bax told The Canadian Business Journal. “Culture gives you a nice context to learn a language.”
Believing this same learning environment could be translated to Canada, Bax returned to home to London, Ont. in 1998 and founded CultureWorks, Canada’s first private English language program hosted on a university campus.
CultureWorks’ unique model was the first to guarantee conditional acceptance to partnered post-secondary institutions, which today includes King’s University College, Brescia University College, Western University, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Durham College, and Carleton University.
CultureWorks also plans to open its first international campus in Seoul in the near future.
Recruiting international students from more than 20 countries, CultureWorks’ curriculum provides students with the academic skills and cultural knowledge to succeed in the Canadian university environment.
“We ask, ‘What’s best for our students?’” Bax explained. “Nowadays, students are looking for more than conditional acceptance, so we have to do more. We’re looking at programs development and different business models to see how we can offer more students greater access to our programs.”
Away from the classroom, students experience Canadian culture and a variety of recreational activities firsthand, from attending a local London Knights hockey game, to taking in the Royal Ontario Museum, Niagara Falls, to the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park. Students first study these activities, learning how these experiences relate to Canadian culture and society.
“A large portion of our curriculum is based on culture and Canadian studies, teaching students in a cultural context,” Bax summarized. “Our values centre on diversity. We help students appreciate Canadian values and the fact that we focus on academic culture results in our students being more competitive in first-year university classrooms.”
From humble beginnings, CultureWorks has experienced exceptional growth over its 15-year history. By the numbers, the school has grown from four students and its initial three staff to a team of 85 staff members and more than 600 students as of last year. CultureWorks is poised for even further growth ahead, as it projects a student population of about 1,200 by 2015. CultureWorks aims to share its cultural learning experience with more and more students.
Most recently, CultureWorks was recognized by the London Chamber of Commerce as the winner of the Business Achievement Award in the Medium Business of the Year category.
“It’s a nice recognition of the contribution that we make in our community,” Bax commented. “Internally, it’s great to see our team talk about what it means to work here, what they love about their work, and their opportunity to serve the community.”
Given its growth, CultureWorks has taken on a new business model that allows the school to continue the record progress it has seen in recent years. That means bringing more international students to Canada who will then pursue post-secondary opportunities with CultureWorks’ domestic and international partners.
“More students than ever are looking to go abroad and study,” Bax said. “Globally, there is no lack of desire from post-secondary institutions for more international students, and that number is growing every year.”
Bax noted one potential obstacle in the Canadian marketplace where new proposed regulations by Citizenship and Immigration Canada would not allow private educators like CultureWorks to accept international students, and subsequently the program would not be officially recognized by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.
“There is a lack of a national and international education strategy. When attracting students to our program, we’re competing with Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, all of which have nationally linked strategies for international students,” Bax explained. “Canada does not, so it’s a challenge but it’s also something we need to overcome if we’re really going to be a player on the world stage.”
Moving forward, CultureWorks continues to participate in a range of international research projects that reflect how its graduates perform at the post-secondary undergraduate level. Results show that graduates of CultureWorks perform as well as international and domestic students, and that’s no surprise given the academic and cultural learning opportunities it provides, in Canada and abroad.